Coursework and lectures are major components of a master’s degree, but hardly the only ones. The graduate experience is focused on training and preparing professionals for the real world. All that theory and knowledge needs to be applied, and that’s why internships are a big part of Bradley’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program. There is no substitute for the experiential learning that counseling students receive through mental health counseling internships and practica.
Not only do such opportunities help students translate all their classroom learning into practical acumen, but licensure as a professional counselor in the U.S. requires completing a certain number of internship or supervised practice hours. Counselors also get insight into the functional role of the counselor, whether as administrator, research faculty member, clinic partner or workforce colleague. Gaining this comprehensive appreciation for the counseling profession through an internship is invaluable.
At Bradley, counseling students have considerable latitude in finding an internship that fits their personal interests and professional desires, as well as a number of potential internship settings, including schools, government agencies, nonprofits, health care systems and corporations. The program’s flexibility even allows online students to find internships where they live. Here’s some more information on mental health counseling internships and the opportunities available to MAC students.
Why are internships important?
The question of how to get work experience in counseling is most commonly answered with an internship. This is applicable to both students entering the workforce and those looking for more advanced roles that require more qualifications and preparation. Internships and practica are a primary avenue through which counseling students can translate academic learning into field practice, connecting what they read about group counseling dynamics to a real family counseling session.
Internships provide realistic, relevant and meaningful experiences for students. Interns get feedback on their knowledge, attitude, communication, client interaction skills and competency with certain client populations.
Beyond personal and professional enrichment, internships and practica during graduate studies prepare students to meet licensed professional counselor requirements. While requirements vary from state to state, becoming licensed generally requires between 2,000 and 3,000 supervised hour post-degree.
Where can counselors find internships?
Counselors can find employment in a number of traditional and nontraditional settings. Likewise, internships are available to students in a wide range of public and private institutions. Some of these options include:
- Addiction treatment centers: Counselors in the substance abuse specialization can intern at these facilities to gain experience with the day-to-day work of recovery. This context helps students better understand and carry out their own duties in prevention, rehabilitation and treatment.
- Drug court programs: This is a way for substance abuse counselors to possibly get more varied experience. Some mental health clinics work with local court systems, probation officers and law enforcement to give qualifying offenders with a substance abuse disorder an alternative to sentencing if they undergo supervised treatment. Interns at such programs can manage support group sessions, direct outreach and provide education to other stakeholders.
- School counseling departments: Interacting with child clients can throw even the most prepared counselor off their game. Learning how to counsel school-aged children is one thing; counseling them in real life is much different. An internship allows professional school counselors to gather the experience they need to understand the idiosyncrasies of kids and help them focus on the future.
- Youth centers and group homes: An opportunity for clinical mental health counselors who may specialize with children, youth centers offer interns a connection with kids who most need services. This provides an experience in the practical and functional aspects of treating disadvantaged and vulnerable client populations. Counselors can glean insight into how processes work, as well as the specialized mental health care children need.
- Human resource offices: Counselors are also found at the corporate level. Human resources may need such professionals for mediation services, or to consult on company culture and workforce motivation. Interns in these positions can develop new skills suited to corporate practice, but which can be transferred across disciplines.
Tips for getting an internship
Despite the diverse number of mental health counseling internships available to counselors, many find it challenging to land a spot. Openings can be very competitive, so here are some strategies to put yourself in the best position as a candidate:
- Do the research: Read the internship description thoroughly, then do some extra research on the institution to which you’re applying. This level of preparation may play well in an interview and will certainly come in handy if you get the internship.
- Use career resources: Bradley, like other schools, ensures graduate students have the institutional support to find and compete for internships. Even online students can utilize career services for resume critiquing or advice on best practices for video interviews.
- Cast a wide net: Don’t just apply to one or two options and hope for the best. Applying and interviewing is experience in itself. Force yourself to consider nontraditional options to expand your skill sets and horizons. Such unique experiences can be valuable even if outside your specialization or comfort zone.
- Leverage industry connections: Participating in trade conventions, research and other events can help you network with individuals who could lend a hand in an internship search.
Earn your online degree from Bradley
Internships are a crucial part of every online master’s program. Bradley helps online students find placements by allowing them to work at approved sites and with approved supervisors in their areas. Through internships and practica, counseling students can gain essential experiential learning and real-world skills. Interested in learning more about Bradley’s online Master of Arts in Counseling? Contact an enrollment advisor today.